The feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the first Sunday following Christmas unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, in which case it is celebrated on Dec. 30. The feast began as a devotion in New France (Canada) in 1675 under Bishop Francois de Laval. It became a very recent feast of celebration when in 1893, Pope Leo XIII officially established it on the Sunday within the Octave of Epiphany, but it was not widely celebrated worldwide. Pope Benedict XV, in 1921, inserted the feast into the Latin Rite’s church calendar.
Many artists have depicted the Holy Family. There are paintings by Joos van Cleve, Michelangelo, Giulio Romano, Rafael, Juan Simon Guitierrez, just to name a few. So, where is the Holy Family depicted in your parish church? Most Catholic churches have a statuary that represents the Holy Family. Some are grouped together, others may have separate “side altars” with Mary one side and Joseph the other. Sometimes, Mary holds Jesus and sometimes Joseph has the child.
I find it interesting that, in the last scenario, Joseph cradles the infant and not his mother. Joseph portrays the image of fatherhood at its best. We all know the story of Mary’s conception of the infant Jesus. Joseph could have rightfully divorced her, but he took the higher ground and raised Jesus as his own. He accepted fatherhood as a true vocation — a calling from God. We can only imagine the hardship that decision placed on both Joseph and Mary. But he didn’t shirk his responsibility and cared for them unwaveringly.
Today’s Old Testament reading from Sirach is a very moving narrative of the family model. It not only sets a framework for positive relationships, but also commands a responsibility for children in caring for their parents. Can you see this in your own lives? How about looking around at your parish family? Is this reading revealed in those around us? We can only hope that through our very human, chaotic and at times disjointed lives, we can look to the Holy Family and find comfort and courage to continually turn our lives around. May you and your family always be guided by the model of the Holy Family.
Sources: aquinasandmore.com, ChurchYear.net; “Encyclopedia of Catholicism.”
Wettstein is a volunteer choir director and former director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.